Let's make International Child Abduction by deceit a criminal offence in the UK
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We, the undersigned, call on HM Government to bring forward legislation to make it a criminal offence to organise the illegal retention of a child or children overseas.
It is likely to come as a surprise to many, but, at present organising the illegal retention of a child or children overseas is not a criminal offence in the UK, whilst international child abduction is.
The difference is slight but significant.
A parent who deceives the other about their true intentions can easily gain consent to visit family for a claimed holiday. Then they continue to execute their plan and do not return. A left behind parent if they are lucky may have their children in a country which is a signatory to the Hague convention. This convention is in place to enable a relatively quick legal process to take place to establish which country the rest of the clear differences between the parents should be resolved.
Even when a court in an overseas country rules that a child or children have been illegally retained, if the parent who orchestrated the situation returns to the 'country of domicile' (UK for the purposes of this petition), any contact arrangements are viewed as a civil matter and have to go through the family courts.
In my personal case, my daughter was taken at 13 months of age, returned to the UK over 6 months later once a court had ruled that she had been illegally retained. Mediation was refused, and overnight stays were only 'agreed' at the doors of the courts 5 months after she was back in the UK. In subsequent proceedings Leave to Remove was granted. She is now overseas and under a different legal jurisdiction.
For almost the entirety of the 2nd year of my daughter's life she was denied meaningful contact with her father through no choice of hers or mine. I believe that if changes were brought into legislation it would be easier for child protection measures to be in place to ensure a regime of meaningful contact with the left behind parent to start as soon as practicably possible on the return of the child(ren) to the UK.
The psychological impact, sense of loss and 'living bereavement' that having your own child(ren) effectively cut out of your life is second to none. Even more so when it has been done in a very planned fashion, compounded with the subsequent consent of society via the family courts if Leave to Remove is granted. More and more awareness is growing on the impact of childhood trauma on the development of their minds. Indeed, the patterns of behaviour of parents who take children in this fashion are eerily similar and bear the hallmarks of coercive control. Despite having been married with my daughter's mother when she was born, in all meaningful senses I have been stripped of any rights with regards to being a father. My daughter has no rights that it appears can be upheld for contact. These issues may well be familiar to parents who have been through a challenging separation.
Reunite – www.reunite.org – are a fantastic charity that have been of huge assistance along the way. I have been privileged to meet with many other wonderful people who have sadly trodden a similar path. It is only in raising awareness of these issues that we as a society can start to try to address them, and hopefully not subject other children and parents to similar pain in the future.
Given the very real risks of having all contact cut between a left behind parent and their child, few who are subjected to this trauma are able to reach a position where they feel comfortable speaking out. I am no longer afraid, and will no longer be silenced by threats or intimidation.
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